What is “popcorn lung”?

On Behalf of | Jul 3, 2020 | Workers' compensation

In addition to workplace injuries, workers in certain environments can also experience serious illnesses. Bronchiolitis obliterans, which is sometimes referred to as “popcorn lung“, is one occupational disease that can have a range of health consequences.

Popcorn lung occurs when air sacs in your lungs, known as alveoli, become irritated. Over time, persistent irritation can cause scar tissue to develop, which in turn affects your breathing.

Why does popcorn lung occur?

Bronchiolitis obliterans is called popcorn lung because of a chemical used during the packaging of microwave popcorn. Diacetyl was commonly used for flavoring popcorn until workers began exhibiting lung issues and problems breathing. Of course, this is just one of the many chemicals associated with the illness.

Many of the chemicals associated with bronchiolitis obliterans are found within places of work. Fumes from metal oxide, which are produced during welding, have been known the cause the disorder. Workers in fossil fuel plants may be exposed to sulfur dioxide, which can cause lung issues as well. Chlorine, formaldehyde, ammonia, and hydrochloric acid are also associated with breathing problems.

How is it treated?

While there is no cure for popcorn lung, more serious effects can be prevented with early diagnosis. When inflammation is an issue, anti-inflammatory medications can reduce swelling in the lungs and improve the intake of air. Medication can also be provided to reduce coughing, which is a common symptom of bronchiolitis obliterans. When damage is more significant, oxygen may be administered.

In the event the condition resulted from a work environment, it is crucial that the employee avoid the chemicals that caused lung irritation in the first place. This can sometimes be accomplished by the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks that filter out dangerous contaminants. However, some workers may need to leave their places of work to prevent lung issues from getting even worse while receiving treatment.